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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                   259

had their dinner than they began to long for supper; in
the crowded school building which temporarily served as
quarters for Unit Three, the steam-pipes had burst, it
was frightfully cold, and throughout the first night Alexei
shivered under his blanket and leather coat—but for all
that, amidst all this confusion and discomfort, he felt as,
probably, a fish feels when a wave sweeps it back into
the sea after it had been lying gasping on a sandy beach.
He liked everything here; even the discomforts of bivouac
life reminded him that he was near his goal.

The habitual surroundings, the cheerful men he was
accustomed to in their leather coats, now peeling and
faded, in their dogskin flying boots, their tanned faces and
hoarse voices; the habitual atmosphere reeking with the
sweetish, pungent smell of aircraft fuel, and echoing with
the roar of engines being warmed up and with the steady,
soothing drone of flying craft; the grimy faces of the
mechanics in greasy overalls ready to drop from weari-
ness; the irate instructors with faces tanned to the colour
of bronze; the cherry-cheeked girls in the meteorological
station; the bluish, stratified smoke issuing from the stove
in the command post; the low humming of the buzzers and
the startling ring of telephones; departing flyers taking
away spoons and creating a shortage in the messroorn;
the wall newspapers written by hand in coloured pencils,
with the inevitable cartoon about the youthful airmen
who dreamed of their girls while in the air; the soft,
yellow mud in the airfield rutted by wheels and skids,
and the merry conversation spiced with salacious catch-
words and aviation terminology—all this was familiar
and settled.

Meresyev blossomed out at once. He recovered tie
cheerfulness and merry recklessness characteristic of the
men in Fighter Command which he seemed to have per-
manently lost. He pulled himself together, briskly returned
the salute of inferiors, smartly took the regulation
steps on meeting superiors and, on receiving his new
uniform, forthwith had it "altered to fit" by an old quar-
termaster sergeant in the M.C.B., who had been a tailor in
civil life, and who, in his spare time, altered the regula-
tion-sized uniforms to "fit the bones" of smart and fast-
idious lieutenants.